On Tuesday, the government released photographs of a deep cavern where some archaeologists claim that ancient Romans honored Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.
The cavern, now buried 16 meters, or 52 feet, under the ruins of Emperor Augustus's palace on the Palatine Hill, has a height of 7.1 meters and a diameter of 6.5 meters. Photographs taken of the cave by a camera probe show a domed cavern decorated with extremely well-preserved colored mosaics and seashells. At the center of the vault is a painted white eagle, a symbol of the Roman Empire.
"This could reasonably be the place bearing witness to the myth of Rome," Italy's minister of culture, Francesco Rutelli, said at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday where a half-dozen photos were displayed to journalists.
The myth concerns Lupercal, whose name comes from "wolf" and refers to the mythical cave where Romulus and Remus - the sons of the god Mars who were abandoned by the banks of the Tiber - were found by a female wolf who suckled them until they were found and raised by a shepherd named Faustulus. The brothers are said to have gone on to found Rome on April 21, 753 B.C., with the legend culminating in fratricide when Romulus killed his twin in a power struggle.
The cave later became a sacred location where the priests of Lupercus celebrated certain ceremonies until A.D. 494. At that time Pope Gelasius put an end to the practice.
It is that location that has been discovered, according to some leading archaeologists. Its presence was first announced in January by Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine. It was found during restoration work on the palace of Augustus, Rome's first emperor, after workers took core samples from the hill and were then alerted to the possible presence of the cave.
"This is one of the most important discoveries of all time," Andrea Carandini one of Italy's most renowned archaeologists, said Tuesday.
Carandini has long held that the myths of ancient Rome, at least in some slightly altered iteration, could quite possibly be true, and so he derived added satisfaction from the find.
"The fact that this sanctuary is under the lower part of the house of Augustus is significant because Augustus was a kind of Romulus himself who refounded Rome and he did it in the place where Romulus had been," he said.
The positioning of the cave, discovered at the base of a hill between the Temple of Apollo and the Church of St. Anastasia, could prove to be problematic for continued excavation.